Geneticist investigated for misconduct

University of Wisconsin-Madison finds questionable data in several studies; co-authors defend work

By | June 2, 2006

An investigation into the work of Elizabeth Goodwin, a former associate professor of genetics and medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has found "several publications in which at least one figure was questionable," according to William Mellon, the university's associate dean for research policy, who commissioned the probe late last year. The papers containing the questionable data appeared in Molecular Cell (in which Goodwin is the senior author), Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, and Developmental Biology. James Williamson at The Scripps Research Institute, senior author of the Nature Structural & Molecular Biology paper, told The Scientist in an Email that Goodwin's work is not crucial to the conclusions and integrity of the paper. Williamson said he had not been contacted about the paper, and was surprised to hear her research was under scrutiny. "She was always very careful in scientific discussions, very precise and careful to say what you knew and what you didn't know," he recalled. Co-authors from the other papers in question did not respond to requests for comment. Goodwin's research focuses on sexual development and sex determination in C. elegans. She was the last author of a 2003 paper in Science, which showed that hermaphrodites produced by mating are better able to survive environmental changes than those produced by self-fertilization. Goodwin resigned her position at the university in February, where she had received over $1.8 million dollars in federal grants. She held a $1 4 million NIH grant between 2002 and 2006 and a $300,000 NIH grant scheduled to run from 2005 to 2009. She also received more than $94,000 in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Goodwin did not respond to requests for comment from The Scientist. A former colleague at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said he did not know where she was, and she had not returned his phone messages. Mellon said the investigation is complete, and the school is preparing to submit its findings in the next several weeks to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. This report will include the names of the publications containing the questionable data, he said. Allegations concerning Goodwin's work arose in late 2005, after graduate students in her lab became suspicious of preliminary results in a grant application. The students notified the chair of her department, which triggered preliminary and more detailed investigations, said Mellon. A committee of three university researchers conducted the probe. A next step is to contact the co-authors of the suspect papers to make a decision on what to do about the publications, Mellon noted. If the figures in question alter the summary and conclusions of the papers, "then obviously they need to make a decision that we have to contact the editors," he said. He added that the school would likely contact the journals regardless. Marvin Wickens of the University of Wisconsin-Madison was senior author on a paper in Molecular and Cellular Biology that included Goodwin as second author. He told The Scientist he was confident of the results because the key experiments were done in his lab. Development Biology did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Lynne Herndon, President and CEO of Cell Press, which publishes the journal Molecular Cell, said the journal is "aware of the investigation," and has contacted the University. "Pending the results of the investigation, we will consider the implications, if any, for the Molecular Cell paper." Linda Miller, US executive editor at Nature and the Nature Research journals, told The Scientist that Nature Structural & Molecular Biology learned of the allegations about the paper Friday (June 2) from a reporter, but has not yet been contacted by the University. Miller added that most of the work on the NSMB paper was conducted outside of Goodwin's lab. "So even in a worst case scenario, the major conclusions would be okay," she said. "But we don't know what the worst case scenario is yet." Harvey Black' Links within this article University of Wisconsin-Madison S.Kuersten et al., "NXF-2, REF-1, and REF-2 affect the choice of nuclear export pathway for tra-2 mRNA in C. elegans," Molecular Cell, June 4, 2004 PM_ID: 15175155. S.P. Ryder, et al. "RNA target specificity of the STAR/GSG domain post-transcriptional regulatory protein GLD-1," Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, January. 2004. PM_ID: 14718919. Lakiza, O, et al."STAR proteins quaking-6 and GLD-1 regulate translation of the homologues GLI1 and tra-1 through a conserved RNA 3'UTR-based mechanism," Developmental Biololgy, November 1, 2005. PM_ID: 16198329. James Williamson V. Prahlad, "Roles for mating and environment in C. elegans sex determination," Science, November 7, 2003. PM_ID: 14605370.. Office of Research Integrity S.R. Thompson, et al. "Rapid deadenylation and Poly(A)-dependent translational repression mediated by the Caenorhabditis elegans tra-2 3' untranslated region in Xenopus embryos," Molecular Cell Biology, March, 2000. PM_ID: 10688659.


July 25, 2007

To the editor\n\nDear Sir:\n\nI am writing to follow up on your article describing the case of scientific misconduct against Dr. Goodwin at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (Geneticist investigated for misconduct; News, June 2, 2006). In your article you described findings of the University of Wisconsin investigation that implicated three peer-reviewed papers co-authored by Dr. Goodwin. The specifics were not discussed and for two of the papers the article said that the authors did not respond to requests for comments. At the time of your article the case against Dr. Goodwin was not complete and the authors of the three papers were in no position to come to any conclusions about the matter. The request for comment came with no warning and in one case with less than two hours to respond. The authors of Lakiza, et al., 2005 received a draft of a statement from the University of Wisconsin report by email that stated a possible problem with two panels out of five in Figure 1 (one of nine figures in the paper). \n\n The authors identified original data for Figure 1 and did new experiments with independent methods and reagents with support from several independent labs to verify the conclusions that the paper reached from data presented in that figure. The new work has undergone rigorous peer-review in a manner completely appropriate to the seriousness of the matter and it has now appeared in Developmental Biology (Lakiza, O., et al., Corrigendum to ?STAR proteins quaking-6 and GLD-1 regulate translation of the homologues GLI1 and tra-1 through a conserved RNA 3? UTR-based mechanism? [Dev. Biol. 287 (2005) 98?110], Dev. Biol. 307, 551 (2007), doi:10.1016/j.ydbio.2007.04.008). The results of the new experiments verify the original conclusions based on the questioned figure.\n\nThis has been a difficult situation for everyone involved and our main concern has been the science. The junior scientists who worked so hard on the paper at the beginning of their careers are victims of this unfortunate situation and are doubly victimized if the conclusion the scientific community reaches based on a rush to judgment is that this important paper has no merit. It might be easier to simply publish the new data confirming the paper?s conclusions and let it go at that. However, I feel strongly that we owe it to our young scientists to draw attention to the verification of these results. I think it is unfortunate that so much attention was given to the implication that the published papers were involved before the facts behind the data in the implicated papers had a chance to be validated and scrutinized by the scientific community. As a respected journalistic resource for research investigators, I hope that you will consider this our response to your 2006 article. \n\n\nRespectfully,\nPhilip M. Iannaccone, M.D., Ph.D.\nGeorge M. Eisenberg Professor\nDeputy Director for Research\nChildren?s Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.\n

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